The Rankin County Detention Center, photographed on Aug. 23, 2023. is located in Brandon, Miss.

Rankin County Undersheriff Paul Holley resigned Monday as a string of controversies encircles his department. 

The former undersheriff worked for the department for nearly eight years, serving as the department’s legal counsel and as Sheriff Bryan Bailey’s right-hand man.  

“During my 4 months as Undersheriff, I have implemented a number of changes that I believed were the best way to help the Sheriff’s Office improve its credibility,” Holley wrote in a Tuesday press release. “I continue to remain an unabashed supporter of Rankin County law enforcement.” 

The former undersheriff did not explain why he was resigning and declined to comment when reached by phone.  

Department spokesperson Jason Dare confirmed Holley’s resignation but declined to comment further. 

Holley’s departure is the latest in a series of upsets at the department after several Rankin County deputies were accused of torturing two Black men and an investigation by Mississippi Today and The New York Times found evidence that Sheriff Bryan Bailey may have illegally obtained phone records for his girlfriend and a Mississippi state representative. 

In August, five members of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and one Richland police officer pleaded guilty to torturing Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker and attempting to cover up their crimes. 

This combination of photos shows, from top left, former Rankin County sheriff’s deputies Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmon, Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield appearing at the Rankin County Circuit Court in Brandon, Miss., Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. The six white former Mississippi law officers pleaded guilty to state charges on Monday for torturing two Black men in a racist assault that ended with a deputy shooting one victim in the mouth. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The deputies—Brett McAlpin, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke, Hunter Elward, Christian Dedmond and Richland Officer Joshua Hartfield—conducted a late-night raid of Parker’s home in January, according to a criminal information filed by the Justice Department. 

Holley was not implicated in the investigation. 

The deputies beat the men, used tasers to shock them repeatedly and sexually assaulted them with a sex toy, court documents show. 

Elward then shoved his pistol into Jenkins’ mouth and pulled the trigger, shattering the young man’s jaw and shredding his neck. He barely survived. 

According to the criminal information, the deputies then attempted to hide their crimes by disposing of the shell casing and gun used to shoot Jenkins and throwing Jenkins and Parkers’ clothes into the woods behind Parker’s home. 

They concocted a false story claiming Jenkins had pulled a BB gun on the deputies, forcing Elward to shoot. The deputies planted drugs on the pair and attempted to coerce Parker into going along with their invented narrative. 

The deputies were part of a group of officers who called themselves the Goon Squad because of their willingness to use violence against criminal suspects, according to the Justice Department’s investigation. 

The indicted officers are still awaiting sentencing on state and federal charges.  

Sheriff Bryan Bailey has denied any knowledge of the Goon Squad’s activities. 

“All of the former deputies lied to me,” Bailey said at a press conference in August. “We have cooperated fully with all outside investigating agencies to uncover the truth and bring justice to the victims.” 

Bailey told reporters he planned to consult with outside agencies and the FBI in order to improve accountability and transparency at his department. 

Litigation from the case is expected to cost the county’s taxpayers millions of dollars, according to legal experts.

Bailey fell under further scrutiny after Mississippi Today and The New York Times discovered evidence that the sheriff used at least eight grand jury subpoenas to obtain phone records for his girlfriend, her ex-husband and another local man in 2014. 

Bailey allegedly began requesting grand jury subpoenas to obtain Kristi Pennington Shanks’ phone records after beginning a romantic relationship with her while she was married to Mississippi State Rep. Fred Shanks, R-Brandon.

A 2016 investigative report filed by then-Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest found the subpoenas did not appear related to any criminal investigation by the sheriff. Guest submitted his investigation to the attorney general at the time, Jim Hood, but his office did not pursue the matter further. 

Hood told Mississippi Today in a statement that he did not remember all the details of how the case was handled, but he insisted that his office had investigated and made the right call to not prosecute.

If there was a legitimate criminal case, legal experts said, the sheriff should not have been involved in the case. 

“There was an obvious and profound conflict of interest here,” said Matthew Steffey, an attorney and a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law. 

“If there was a legitimate criminal investigation, the sheriff should not have been subpoenaing his own girlfriend’s phone records. And he certainly cannot do it without the knowledge or the direction of the district attorney’s office.”

Bailey did not respond to requests for comment about the allegations. The sheriff is running unopposed this year in his third reelection bid. 

Holley was not implicated in the investigation into Bailey’s subpoenas.

In his resignation letter, Holley urged the community to “be patient with the men and women that wear the badge as they continue to serve all the citizens of Rankin County.”

Nate Rosenfield and Brian Howey are Immersion Fellows with the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, part of Mississippi Today.

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Nate Rosenfield is an investigative reporter at the Mississippi Center of Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today, where he is working with The New York Times on a series on the abuse of power by sheriffs across Mississippi. A 2023 graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, he was a Stabile Investigative Fellow at Columbia Journalism School, where he completed an investigation into the impacts of heat illness on outdoor workers, which was published by the Guardian and Grist. He is the recipient of the Brown Institute's Magic Grant for his project Commons, a tool he and a team of data journalists are designing for investigative reporters that uses AI to analyze public comments on proposed federal regulations.

Brian Howey is an award-winning investigative reporter at the Mississippi Center of Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today. His stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. His stories have also appeared in WIRED magazine. He earned his master’s degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and has worked as a freelancer covering everything from policing to wedgefish.